Where else is the axe due to fall?
IT’S CRUNCH time for Argyll and Bute Council as a meeting of the full council votes whether to remove the controversial 45 per cent cut planned for additional support needs funding for children.
The very idea sparked a storm of protest; Oban’s Corran Halls saw a turnout of more than 300 to a meeting called by the town’s community council with the AB-Pacc (Argyll and Bute Parents Against Council Cuts), last Wednesday.
The meeting was heated at times and councillors were left in no doubt about public feeling.
Today (Thursday) the full council gets to vote on the recommendation to ‘consider whether the option of reducing additional support needs (ASN) assistant support by 45 per cent should be removed from the current service choices consultation programme’.
At the start of this school year there were 1,931 pupils who needed additional support and of these approximately 570 children needed ASN assistant support.
SNP councillors announced ahead of today’s council meeting that they would be voting to get rid of the cut, criticising ‘ the unnecessary angst’ it has caused for parents, children and the people facing redundancy.
‘I hope that the council will together agree to put this emotive and distressing issue behind us,’ said Sandy Taylor leader of the SNP council group.
Last Wednesday’s meeting heard council area leader Roddy McCuish heckled and called a ‘liar’ and an opposition councillor likening the project board – the committee set up to oversee the budget-making process – to ‘North Korea’.
This worry at the lack of information and fear of where other cuts will fall was echoed when Oban Community Council held a second, less-well attended public meeting on Friday at Glencruittten Church Hall.
This was for the public consultation ‘Planning our Future’, complete with a survey asking for public opinion on how to make savings between now and 2018.
The document left many people baffled; they felt it was too complex.
Alan Reid, Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate for Argyll and Bute in the May 2016 elections, who was at the meeting on Friday, said: ‘The clear feeling of the meeting was that the council hadn’t given enough details of what the options would mean and the community council should feed that back to the council.’
One member of the public, Andy MacArthur, said asking people to fill in the consultation document was ‘like sitting in a lifeboat deciding who to eat first while the good ship Kilmory [council headquarters] sails on’.
He added: ‘There is absolutely no accountability or transparency in Argyll and Bute; 52 per cent of the project board are un-elected.’
Ahead of today’s meeting, Highlands and Islands MSP David Stewart sent his support for Argyll and Bute Parents Against Council Cuts.
He said: ‘The service cuts are unacceptable. As is so often the case, those in most need have to bear the brunt of the cuts.
‘I have sympathy for the situation Argyll and Bute Council is in. It is time its MSPs faced up to the reality that these cuts are a direct result of the council tax freeze that the SNP government imposed across Scotland.
‘The situation is made worse due the remoteness of some parts of Argyll and the large number of islands that do not receive the same support offered to other island communities. I will continue to fight for a fair deal for Argyll.’